What’s Old Is New Is Old Is New Is Old Is New Again

Having spent the last few weeks riding road bikes and fussing over the nuances of “supple” tires, I knew it was time to set all that anal-retentive nonsense aside, zoom out, and hop on something with some substance:

If Rene Herse tires make your bike feel like it’s on Vicodin, 3-inch wide 29er tires make it feel like it’s on its third pitcher of beer, and like a rowdy drunk in a crowded bar I was plowing through everything, urinating indiscriminately, and generally feeling no pain–though I was sensitive enough to stop pedaling when I felt this stick enter my derailleur cage:

I was just a few pedal strokes away from disaster.

Anyway, as I reminded myself during my end-of-summer vacation, the Jones is a truly fantastic bicycle. I’d also argue it’s a true original–a versatile and capable bike that defies categorization and doesn’t owe its existence to any one type of bike. (Sure, Jeff Jones works more or less in the mountain bike idiom, but I wouldn’t call his bikes mountain bikes so much as I’d call them bikes you can use for mountain biking.) This is in contrast to, say, the gravel bike, which astute bike industry observers have noted is in many ways a reinvention of the cross country mountain bike:

Which I mention because I recently happened upon this video in which James Huang and Caley Fretz of CyclingTips address just that:

I’m pleased to hear them acknowledge that a 25 year-old mountain bike is just as capable as a modern flat-bar gravel bike, though different gravel bikes owe their existence to different types (mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, touring bikes…) and I think an even better comparison in this particular case would be a hybrid–a style of bike which, at the time that mountain bike was made, was reaching its apotheosis:

Not only were these all-around bikes with sporting pretenses, but LeMond’s hybrid even used the same frame as its cyclocross bike, if I recall correctly:

Yet unlike vintage mountain bikes, vintage hybrids have no cachet. Indeed, so indifferent are bike weenies to them that even Grant Petersen-era Bridgestone hybrids are essentially worthless:

Meanwhile, a typical retrogrouch would gladly sell the contents of his wife’s underwear drawer to get his hands on one of these:

In fact I think that may be what’s going on here:

You’ll never look at vintage Bridgestones the same way again.

Anyway, all of this raises some compelling questions: Will the humble hybrid ever have its day as an object of desire? Or are they chronically and irredeemably uncool, never to shake off the dusty indignity of the suburban garage? Also, are people actually buying these flat-bar gravel bikes and convincing themselves they’re not hybrids? Sure, the propaganda’s out there, but nobody really believes any of it, do they?

[“Progressive” LOL]

This is in no way to denigrate hybrids, or flat-bar bikes of any kind, and of course people should curate their cockpits however they see fit. At the same time, arguably flat bars are poorly suited to anything besides technical mountain biking, so it’s ironic that for years the bike industry attempted to make bicycles more accessible by equipping them with bars that are essentially less comfortable–and are now putting them on gravel bikes, which are meant for pretty much everything except for technical mountain biking.

Maybe someone should try putting drop bars on a hybrid. Multiple hand positions, generous tire clearance, wide gear range… Now that would be mind-blowing!

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